Silver Palate chocolate cake is not an eighties throwback – it’s the perfect chocolate cake and a perfect birthday cake material.
The Silver Palate Cookbook, a dinner party bible born in the US in the 80s is the source of this recipe. It didn't mean much to me when I first saw the recipe in NY Times Cooking (wrong age, wrong country), but I'm always on the lookout for a good chocolate cake. Who isn’t after all?
What makes a good chocolate cake?
As much as I detest the word and have been actively campaigning to replace it with ‘wet’, ‘juicy’ or ‘damp’, a good chocolate cake needs to be moist. Dry and crumbly won’t pass muster, too fudgy and it’s a brownie – it must be just the right degree of gooeyness.
It should be reasonably easy to make. Therein lies part of the secret, I think: butter melted with chocolate, some cocoa as well for a good measure with a bit of water, flour scant and nonchalantly whisked in.
But there should be a bit of a challenge too, like separating eggs and beating the whites for an airy boost. After all, too easy will make you think you’ve not tried hard enough for a birthday – because this recipe is also the perfect canvas for a birthday cake.
Silver Palate cake – the best birthday cake material
It’s a revelation: a shortcut to the best birthday cake ever. And I certainly know what I’m talking about: I’ve made this twice in the space of two days, because one hardly yielded enough to satisfy the well-wishers for my father-in-law’s 90th birthday.
Ninetieth birthday – I can’t quite imagine being that age. I’m – ahem – quite old in my perception, but NINETY!
Geez, that’s having been around for the Great War – almost. That’s having been conscripted for the WW2. That’s – as the birthday boy never fails to point out – being in Egypt with the PoWs.
That's making it to Berlin in 1945, seeing off the Cold War, going through the birth of NHS, Harold Wilson’s failures and victories, Thatcher years, the lot.
Am I going to live as long? Will I say one day I’ve been through the Zuckerberg years? The Trump era? The robot rebellion (or something like it)?
Anyway – the birthday boy approved of my chocolate cake. Regardless of his son’s disparaging guidance: ‘Just give him chocolate and cream. As sweet as it can go’, he definitely knows quality.
Someone who’s lived through rationing, the suet puddings, the saltless vegetables boiled to death, the ‘foreign muck’ that would sometimes turn out ‘really tasty’ will know what’s good and what’s not. My chocolate cake was deemed VERY GOOD. I basked in pride.
How to make the Silver Palate chocolate cake?
It ticks all my chocolate cake boxes: it’s easy, but not too easy. The base batter is made in a saucepan, with melted butter, chocolate, cocoa and sugar. When it cools down, egg yolks are whisked in followed by cream and the dry ingredients.
To give it lightness, egg whites beaten into stiff peaks are very gently folded into the runny batter.
It bakes into a handsomely cracked surface which is always the best thing about frosted or iced cakes as the frosting goes into the crevasses to make coveted pockets in every other slice.
The chocolate frosting made with cream and butter is just gorgeous – the kind that slowly rolls and oozes down the sides of the cake, cleverly stopping to set just when it reaches the bottom.
Birthday cake variations
The frosting is more than enough to make a sumptuous cake but if you want to make it truly special and decadent, here’s how.
You can either divide the cake batter between two tins and limit the baking time to 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Or bake it as one, as instructed below, fully cool it down and then slice it horizontally in half. The latter is my preferred option because the filling in the middle melts into the crumb in a more cohesive way, rather than just sitting on the cake crust.
The middle filling can be the same as the frosting, for a triple chocolate hit. But I prefer to fill the cake with unsweetened whipped cream, only lightly flavoured with vanilla.
With fresh cream the cake needs to be stored in the fridge and will last up to four days. Without the cream it can be kept at room temperature for as long as it takes for it to vanish – which, I promise, is not long at all.
More chocolate cake recipes
This is the famous and the secret Austrian Sacher torte or its tastealike, reasonably authentic.
For everyday chocolate cake cravings, this chocolate yoghurt cake is perfectly fitting.
The Swedes do it with white chocolate: white chocolate kladdkaka is one of my all-time favourites.
More birthday cake recipes
This is an old school classic: red velvet cake with a cream cheese, mascarpone and whipped cream filling.
Fabulous and minimalistic: genoise sponge cake with blueberry and mascarpone frosting.
One cake to rule them all: dome cake with raspberry mousse, buttercream and white chocolate ganache, and it’s as glamorous as it sounds.